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Kids At Risk When Driver Is Drunk

Two of every three children killed in alcohol-related crashes were riding in the car with the drunk driver, the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports in a new report issued this week.

The group is trying to reduce the number of children who are killed every year while riding in a vehicle with a driver who is intoxicated.

In Wednesday's HealthWatch, Wendy Hamilton, national president of the organization, has advice on what you can do.

She tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, family members, friends and the general public have a responsibility to keep these drivers off the road by calmly suggesting alternative transportation or postponing travel. If all else fails, call 911.

"You don't want to start an altercation," she says. "And if all else fails and the child is forced to get in the car with that impaired driver, call 911 and report the vehicle with as much information as possible so that police can respond. It's a terribly dangerous situation for children. Most times these events are occurring during the daytime hours between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. These children, most of them are not restrained in child safety seats or seat belts and adults are driving with pretty high levels of drugs or alcohol."

The report called, "Child Endangerment Report: Every Child Deserves a Designated Driver," outlines weaknesses in state laws. The group believes drivers are not penalized harshly enough when they are found intoxicated on the road with a child in the car. When child endangerment charges are brought against them, the report says, the charges are often reduced or dismissed through plea-bargaining.

It is important to document the situation, Hamilton notes. "I think that is necessary, especially in child custody cases where parents are concerned about these sorts of issues, that you have information with times and dates and locations in case it's necessary to go to family court to validate this kind of behavior."

According to a study released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) last month, 2,335 children died in car-crashes involving drinking drivers between 1997 and 2002. Of those children who were killed, 68 percent of them were in the same car as the drinking driver as opposed to being the accidental victim of an intoxicated driver who hit their vehicle.

Hamilton says, "Unfortunately, kids don't have a choice in this matter. And lots of times they don't have a voice."

MADD has devised a 5- to 8-week curriculum for elementary school that teaches these strategies:

  • Sit in the back seat
  • Buckle-up tight and use the booster seat if you need to.
  • Put all of your belongings like books, jackets, etc. on the floor
    to reduce the chances of having them flying around if there's
    an accident
  • Be quiet and don't distract the driver.